Despite the cruel history, people are extremely friendly with good heart, grateful for every coin, accustomed hard work and still full of life. You do not meet people like these very often. The children of barefoot run through the dusty macadam streets, bathe in the water cupboard and live in small houses of natural material together with their parents.
KAMPOT and BOHOR NATIONAL PARK
After one hour of waiting on the border with Vietnam, we set off from Ha Tien by bus to Kampot. You get a visa for Cambodia at the border and costs $35 if you go through with a Vietnamese agency (on the official site the price is $30 if you go across the border alone). The good thing of the agency is that you have a transport on the other side.
Cambodia is the only Asian country where the dominant religion is Buddhism. You can meet the Buddha statue anywhere, even at the top of the Bohor mountain in the national park, where we went with the scooter the next day. The scooter is the best transport in Asia. You are the fastest from one point to the next. Gas is cheap. On the road, you meet locals who transport everything, from a pair of bags to the hay, pieces of furniture and all family members.
At the top of Bohor, besides the statue, there are ruins of the former French station, the ruins of the former ruler’s Black Palace on the cliff and the ruins of the former prestigious hotel and casino. The landscape is beautiful and has great views of the Thai Bay and the largest Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc; you can also visit the waterfall Popokvil. Mines are still a major problem in Cambodia. The country is considered to be one of the most sown areas in the world, so take all advises to walk just along solidified paths!
On the river banks people promote watching fireflies, so we also spontaneously embarked on a boat. Dinner at the top of the boat, listening to music and seeing the fireflies was a wonderful end of the day.
Kampot is a small, lovely place along the Thai bay with restaurants on anchored ships and with French-style houses in the city center. Typical Cambodian (Khmer) food is Amouk (the most famous fish), soups (pumpkins, fish, curry), spicy noodles with meat. Tom Yum soup, and vegetarian rolls are an influence from Thailand. The popular spices that they use and give special taste are chilli, lemon grass, lime, coconut, ginger, …
People work from $30 to $300 per month, which is unthinkable for us. Their main products are rice, fish and pepper, and the salt in the Kampot valley. We also went to the countryside, where we watched the sunset by the salt pans, and the next day we went on a kayak to the river. The river is very wide and you can dig into it. I skipped this because we saw a water snake, but with kayak we went into the mangrove and through the channels, which were quite dirty. In Cambodia, pollution is a major problem.
Phnom Penh is the largest city of Cambodia with 1.5 million people. We came to the capital in the afternoon by train (“Royal Train”). The journey from Kampot to Phnom Penh lasted approximately 5 hours with delay. On the train, which only drives once per a day, we were mostly only foreigners. The landscape is picturesque, we past hills, fields and valleys when we have reached the contaminated outskirts of the city. The train passes past with the rubbish surrounded by sheds to the city center, where locals with tuk tuk are waiting at the entrance of the railway station.
Phnom Penh is located by the rivers Tonle Sap and Mekong, and the main attraction is the royal palace where the royal family is located. We also visited Wat Phnom, one of the first religious sites on this site. By the city, we were driving with the most popular means of transport, here by the way. In Asian countries, it is important to bargain – negotiate, as the original price can be reduced by more than half!
Since we visited the city in early January, the main streets and promenade were still decorated with lights and you could feel the Christmas atmosphere. We also visited the food market where we tried new Cambodian dishes. This was the first market, where we ordered and sat on the carpet. Food markets are tradition in Asia and are very popular. Only here can you get to know the true culture of food, new spices, and it is also good for vegetarians.
SIEM REAP and ANGKOR WAT
Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples were the main reason of Cambodia’s visit.
Siem Reap is a place near Lake Tonle Sap in the northwest and is a popular place and starting point for Temples. Siem Reap is the right place for a “food” market and for nightlife. In the city center there is a pub street, where there are restaurants, bars, and also offer massages, pedicures and manicures and fish therapy. On the street you can also try baked spiders, water snakes and various insects.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious temple in the world and belongs to UNESCO protection. Before we entered the temple, the driver drove us to the other end of the place where we bought a day ticket ($37). You can also buy more 3 days or 7 day tickets . The best option is to take a tuk tuk for the whole day, so you can quickly organize your day and not waste your time searching for a new driver in front of the entrance of the temples.
In addition to Angkor Wat, we also visited Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider’s shooting scene), Bayon Temple, Angkor Thum, and Bakheng Hill, where we were watching the sunset. The temple on the hill takes only the first 300 visitors for the sunset, then the temple closes.
The magnificent massive stones with tropical wings in the middle of the jungle are an indication of how the Khmerians have built their temple dedicated to the king. Temples are really inspiring and you simply lose your sense of time. Nevertheless, I think that one day is enough for research. The temples are open from eight in the morning and close at half past six in the evening (the exception is Angkor Wat, which opens at five in the morning).
Tip: Only a properly dressed person is allowed to enter the temple; dress must be over your knees and shoulders should be covered!
You can find a lot of monkeys in the Angkor Wat temples. Here is video how you can feed them with bananas. They are friendly, but still be careful!
Cambodia has taught me many new things that can not be learned at school. A country that inspires you with simplicity and where you realize what is truly important in life. In Cambodia, the family is in the first place and is more important than any salary. Children are running on macadam roads, dirty and happy. There are no rules on the roads and it’s real chaos. A country in which a smile is counted and where goodness knows no boundaries.
In order to gain a better understanding of the history and the reign of the Red Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Angelina Jolie directed a film entitled First They Killed My Father from 2017. The story is based on the real events of Loung Ung and shows the cruel history of the Cambodians under the violent Khmer regime. I recommend!!!
Thank you Kingdom of Wonder!